NFL free agency is considered one of the most exciting times of the NFL year for many observers. It’s almost like if you didn’t get what you wanted last holiday season (the Draft), you go out and try to see if you can still buy what you want. It requires patience, panache and two willing partners to make a deal, and you never know who might turn up. Or why someone left you for another. But we all are willing to speculate on it anyway.
The free agency period can make strange bedfellows. Like when Brett Favre waltzes across the border (via New York and Hattiesburg). Or when Eddie Lacy stops by for a couple days of good eats, promises to return to Green Bay for a snack and then ends up gorging himself in Seattle. It’s not exactly what you would predict, but when looking back, it does appear to make sense.
At least if you consider what former Packers guard T.J. Lang had to say after signing with Green Bay’s NFC rival Detroit Lions. Lang was making the rounds (and for some reason never considered the Vikings), and went to Seattle ready to sign with the Seahawks. But money changed all that, and the Lions forked it over. Meanwhile, the Packers, whose general manager Ted Thompson rarely makes a huge foray into free agency, let the eight-year vet slip away. And Lang explains why he left in an interview with 97.1 The Ticket radio:
“I think just throughout the years they were able to get some guys back in town because they used the whole, we’re good, we’re competitive, we compete for championships every year. Do you want to play with the best quarterback in the NFL-type thing, you’re going to have to take a little less money, and I think it just kind of wore some guys out the last couple years and watching guys leave. But it was a luxury that for a long time they were able to have. And they’re still going to be fine, they’re still going to compete, they’re still going to be a hell of a team, but it is what it is. It’s just a business and the older you get, the more you play, the more you understand it.”
Momentarily, that reminds one of the “toxic leadership” at the Vikings, according departed H-back Rhett Ellison’s dad. He said the Vikings free agents are leaving in droves because of problems with the leadership, when, if you look closer, the team wasn’t going to pay for many of those free agents (at the price received) anyway. But in Lang’s case, the comments came from Lang, himself, not his father, as they did with Riki Ellison.
So, what are we to make of this Vikings free agent season? They have lost a number of players, but not all of them are the kinds of defections that should send the Purple faithful into apoplectic shock. Let’s a take a look:
Audie Cole—a career backup that wanted to crack the starting lineup. He will get a chance in Jacksonville and wouldn’t in Minnesota. Panic Richter scale: 2 for depth.
Matt Kalil—we all know this story. He got more money than the Vikings would have paid him and more family (playing with his brother in Carolina). He wanted to leave. And the Vikings made a concerted effort to replace him by signing two NFL starting tackles in Reilly Reiff and Mike Remmers. Panic Richter scale: Some would say 7 or 8 and others a 2, depending on who you talk to. I say 5.
Andre Smith—back to the Bengals after a very disappointing season due to injury and lack of production. This departure was expected. The Vikings had no intention of resigning him. Panic Richter scale: 0.
Captain Munnerlyn—still a little puzzled by this one, as the Captain worked to become vital in Mike Zimmer’s defense and accomplished that. He returns to Carolina where he still has friends. Munnerlyn knows how to work free agency. Tough loss. Panic Richter scale: Depends on how the Vikings respond in filling his slot in the slot—7.
Jeff Locke—this one surprised a lot of people, perhaps even the Vikings. After sub-par years Locke righted the ship (although my colleague Luke Braun would disagree). Locke is striking while the iron is hot to cash in. The Vikings have his replacement on a futures contract. Panic Richter scale: Initially a 6, but that number is going down.
Cordarrelle Patterson—despite his social media lobbying to return to Minnesota, CP signed with the Oakland Raiders for more money than the Vikings wanted to pay him. The loss on special teams is significant while the loss at receiver is not. He will need to be replaced as a return man, and that will take some doing. Panic Richter scale: 9 on special teams and 2 at wideout—so, 7.
Rhett Ellison—the Vikings let the five-year tight end go to the New York Giants because the price was too costly and they feel they have his replacement on the roster in David Morgan. It is a move for money and youth, and a good one. And if Riki Ellison is getting his info from his son, then it is also a good moral move, but I am not buying that whole scenario anyway, and tried to lay that out on the Purple Journal podcast here. Panic Richter scale: 3.
Charles Johnson—moved on to the Vikings Southeast team in Carolina. A guy brought in by Norv Turner whose opportunities to shine were slowly eroding away due to injuries and the emergence of Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs. The Vikings have lost two receivers (thus, perhaps, the dalliance with Alshon Jeffery), so Laquon Treadwell is going to have to step up, Jarius Wright step in and more depth secured. The Vikings weren’t overly interested to resign him. Panic Richter scale: 1 (depending on what the Vikings do to fill the gap).
In many cases, I don’t believe it was a matter of the Vikings doing too little. Rather I believe it was the team doing what it wanted. In cases such as Munnerlyn and Kalil, you need two parties willing to get together. And that has happened in the case of Remmers, Reiff and most recently Datone Jones and Terence Newman.
I doubt Newman re-signs if the Zimmer leadership is toxic. Plenty of reports came out about the supposed riff late in the season between Zimmer and his defensive backs, and since that time it has become known that several players came in at the end of the season to speak with Zimmer about the way he handled some issues. And Zimmer listened, and told reporters that he listened. At least his longtime player Newman is willing to give him another shot.
And one of those instances of mishandling was in regards to Zimmer calling out linebacker Anthony Barr publically. And now we see that Barr (and fellow UCLA alum Eric Kendricks) were lobbying to get Jones (their teammate with the Bruins) to come to Minnesota. I don’t think Barr does that if there is a “schism” between him and his head coach.
In other words, the Riki Ellison comments don’t pass the smell test for me.
Jones, a former first-round pick of the Packers, could back up Lang’s comments about Green Bay, as the Packers are losing their share of players—particularly starters: Lang, Eddie Lacy, Micah Hyde, Julius Peppers, J.C. Tretter and perhaps very soon, Jared Cook (who is visiting Minnesota). Without breaking down those defections, they are rather significant.
While I won’t say that I am completely on board with the Vikings constantly raiding the Packers for their “castoffs,” as one disgruntled Packer fan friend of mine called them, I will say it has worked out in the past. And while we must apply the same measure of “needing two parties’ willingness to get together” to the Packers losses, and consider that you need to hear both sides to the story when hearing comments such as Lang’s, I will contend that things are a little different with the Packers’ losses. There is a high incidence of former Packers going to division rivals; there seems to be some sort of payback going on.
And I am alright with that.